Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mullah Omar not in Balochistan: Raisani

DAWN.COM | - Balochistan | Mullah Omar ‘not in Pakistan's Balochistan’
QUETTA: Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani and Senior Minister Maulana Abdul Wasay said on Friday that no Taliban leader wanted by the US was hiding in the provincial capital.

Talking to journalists, they expressed concern over reports that the United State intended to expand drone attacks to Balochistan.

The chief minister said drone attacks on any part of the province would draw a strong reaction and the matter would be taken to the United Nations.

Nawab Raisani said there were two groups of Taliban —those who were peacefully studying in seminaries and those who believed in militancy and were at war with the US. He said the militant faction of Taliban did not exist in Balochistan....

He denied the presence of Taliban’s top leadership in Balochistan, saying there was no militant activity in the province. 

About 95 per cent of the seminaries in Balochistan were being run by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), which did not believe in violence or militancy, the minister added. He said suicide bombers were a product of international intelligence agencies which wanted to pave way for the US to occupy the lands of other nations....

[bth: I thought he might be credible until I read that last sentence.  My mistake.  Is there any government official in Pakistan that is worth listening too?]

Friday, March 20, 2009

USMC developing UAV to re-supply combat forces - Marine Corps News, news from Iraq - Marine Corps Times

USMC developing UAV to re-supply combat forces - Marine Corps News, news from Iraq - Marine Corps Times: "By this summer, combat troops in Afghanistan could be getting re-supplied by giant unmanned aerial vehicles, a Marine Corps general told Congress Wednesday.

The Marines are working with industry to build a cargo-carrying UAV capable of hauling up to 1,200 pounds of battlefield essentials — such as ammunition, water and batteries — to ground troops in remote places, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. John Amos told the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on defense.

The move is part of a short-term plan to find new ways to reduce the weight Marines carry into combat. Details are sketchy, but Amos said “I’m looking for something now. We want to get a solution into Afghanistan by this summer.”

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who also testified at the hearing, told Army Times in an interview that he was unsure if the Army will use cargo UAVs in the future. He said that the Army has been able to deliver up to 26,000 pounds of supplies a day using precision air drop."

War Is Boring - Analysts: buy fighters or die

War Is Boring: "“The world has to get used to taking care of itself,” analyst Loren Thompson declared at a confab in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. Thompson and a host of speakers reached a consensus: owing to the financial crisis and the inability to pay for complex weapons programs, the United States will have to “scale back its global commitments and revise its global strategy,” in the words of one reporter covering the event.

Analyst Gregory Martin, a retired Air Force general, said the erosion of world influence is largely the result of weak public support for the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters, which are built by Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. “If you can’t afford that [mix], then your national objectives have to be scaled back,” Martin said.

In other words, stealth fighters equal national power. And the absence of stealth fighters equals weakness.


[bth: worth a full read]

A.I.G. Sues Government for Return of $306 Million in Tax Payments -

A.I.G. Sues Government for Return of $306 Million in Tax Payments - "While the American International Group comes under fire from Congress over executive bonuses, it is quietly fighting the federal government for the return of $306 million in tax payments, some related to deals that were conducted through offshore tax havens."

A.I.G. sued the government last month in a bid to force it to return the payments, which stemmed in large part from its use of aggressive tax deals, some involving entities controlled by the company’s financial products unit in the Cayman Islands, Ireland, the Dutch Antilles and other offshore havens....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gates: 'Stop-loss' phasing out, families of fallen to get travel aid -

Gates: 'Stop-loss' phasing out, families of fallen to get travel aid - "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The military will phase out its 'stop-loss' program, the contentious practice of holding troops beyond the end of their enlistments, for all but extraordinary situations, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday."

Gates also announced at a wide-ranging news conference that the Defense Department will pay for families of fallen troops to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be present for the return of their deceased family members.

The decision to phase out stop loss by 2011 comes in combination with an announcement that soldiers affected by the program will receive a $500-a-month bonus while they are in extended service.

Currently, the Army is the only service that uses the stop-loss program. As of January, 13,217 soldiers had tours extended under the stop-loss policy....

[bth: the stop loss program should be ended now not 2011. It is ridiculous]

Anger in Pakistan at US plan to expand drone attacks against Taliban and al-Qaida targets | World news | The Guardian

Anger in Pakistan at US plan to expand drone attacks against Taliban and al-Qaida targets | World news | The Guardian: "Pakistan reacted with anger yesterday to an American proposal to expand its drone missile strikes inside the country against Taliban and al-Qaida targets.

Pakistani politicians and officials described the idea of extending military operations into the vast, south-west province of Baluchistan as provocative and counterproductive, and warned of a severe backlash if the US went ahead.

Sources in the US administration confirmed that the White House has received recommendations from the military about an escalation in the use of the CIA's unmanned drones to launch missile attacks. At present, attacks are confined to the tribal areas in the north-west of the country."...

Quetta is a frontier city about a three-hour drive from Kandahar in Afghanistan. During the British empire, it was a garrison and still has a large army cantonment. The provincial capital of Baluchistan, a vast, sparsely populated region, has since the 1980s become the home of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees, fleeing war in their home country. The ethnic Baluch are in a minority in the city, which is dominated by Pashtuns, the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan, making it easy for Afghans to melt into Quetta. After 9/11, when the US and allies invaded Afghan, it is said that the Taliban leadership shifted from Kandahar to Quetta. Most notoriously, the high altitude city of about one million people is home to the "Quetta shura", the Taliban's ruling council, which directs the insurgency across the border.

Obama abandons veterans' private insurance plan

The Raw Story | Obama abandons veterans' private insurance plan
After today's meeting between veteran advocacy leaders and the Obama administration, the White House announced that it will be abandoning a plan to make veterans use private insurance for war-related injuries.

Obama's proposal, which officials insisted he was 'non-committal' about, would force veterans out of a taxpayer-funded health care system, even if treatment was needed for injuries and illnesses related to their service. The Department of Veterans Affairs now bills third-party insurers only for non-service related injuries and illnesses such as the flu. If the injured vet requires prosthetics or ongoing therapy for a war injury, the VA picks up the tab. Obama's proposal would have changed that.

The White House was hoping that private insurers, who already sell coverage to vets, would be forced to pay their fair share. In a veterans meeting on Monday, Obama estimated that this could save $540 million. However, wounded vets can only purchase private insurance because the insurers know that any service-related injury will be covered by the VA. If this proposal had gone through, many feared, costs for war-related treatment might become prohibitive.

Along with the proposal to privatize veterans' insurance came a plan to boost funding for the VA by $25 billion over the next five years. According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, veterans can be confident that "This president takes very seriously the needs of our wounded warriors that have given so much to protect our freedom on battlefields throughout the world." The abandoned proposal might have helped take financial pressure of the VA, which has recently come under fire for being a bureaucratic mess.....

[bth: this was just stupid on the part of the Obama administration. Foolish.]

Moon of Alabama - Idle shipping capacity

Moon of Alabama:... "To mothball those ships has help to put fright-rates measured in the Baltic Dry Index back up to 2,400. The index had slumped from a very profitable 12,000 level last May to a ruinous 800 in October. But the ships still sailing now are still unlikely to make any money. More of them will have to be placed in lay-up.

In the German version of the Financial Times shipowner Claus Peter Offen, who has more than 130 container ships in his fleet, expects that by the end of 2011, 25% of the world's container-ships fleet will swim idle. Another big German shipowner was reported to have rented a whole fjord in Norway to park his unused ships.

This table I dug up shows that the 25% level would be worse than the idle numbers during the Great Depression."...

Top U.S. generals disturbed by GOP stalling of Chris Hill's appointment - By Laura Rozen | The Cable

Top U.S. generals disturbed by GOP stalling of Chris Hill's appointment - By Laura Rozen | The Cable:... "'I would not at all be surprised if military commanders in Iraq are frustrated that they don't have a new ambassador in position,' added Gen. William Nash (ret.), the former top U.S. commander in Bosnia, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. 'The issues are far more political and economic than they are military and U.S. efforts need to move forward on those fronts. That's particularly critical in the execution of the withdrawal plan.'

Asked if Republican objections to Hill that he is not a Middle East expert are legitimate, Nash said the opposition is 'being difficult to be difficult. I have known Chris Hill for 14 years. He is a wonderful diplomat and exactly the kind of guy we need in Iraq.'"....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fed to buy up to $300B long-term Treasury bonds - Yahoo! Finance

Fed to buy up to $300B long-term Treasury bonds - Yahoo! Finance: "WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday it will spend up to $300 billion over the next six months to buy long-term government bonds, a new step aimed at lifting the country out of recession by lowering rates on mortgages and other consumer debt."

At the same time, the Fed left a key short-term bank lending rate at a record low of between zero and 0.25 percent. Economists predict the Fed will hold the rate in that zone for the rest of this year and for most -- if not all -- of next year.

Fed purchases should boost Treasury prices and drive down their rates. That would ripple through and lower rates on other kinds of debt. The last time the Fed set out to influence long-term interest rates was during the 1960s.

The Fed also said it will buy more mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help that battered market. The central bank will buy an additional $750 billion, bringing its total purchases of these securities to $1.25 trillion. It also will boost its purchase of Fannie and Freddie debt to $200 billion....

[bth: while the short term effect may be to reduce interest rates, the long term impact will be inflationary as the Federal Reserve really will be essentially printing money. The federal government will be issuing debt from one hand and buying it with the other.]

Washington Times - EXCLUSIVE: Israel's national security aide barred from U.S.

Washington Times - EXCLUSIVE: Israel's national security aide barred from U.S.: "Uzi Arad, who is expected to serve as national security adviser in the next Israeli government, has been barred from entering the United States for nearly two years on the grounds that he is an intelligence risk.

Mr. Arad, a former member and director of intelligence for the Mossad, Israel's spy service, is mentioned in the indictment of Lawrence Franklin, a former Pentagon analyst who pleaded guilty in 2005 to providing classified information about Iran in a conversation with two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)."...

More Aviation Fuel For Afghanistan: MOA

M of A - More Aviation Fuel For Afghanistan
...The solicitation has now been modified and the required numbers changed:

* 100,776,000 U.S. Gallons - Turbine Fuel, Aviation
* 11,883,000 U.S. Gallons - Fuel Oil, Diesel
* 1,438,000 U.S. Gallons - Gasoline, Automotive, Unleaded

Diesel numbers have been lowered a bit and gasoline number stay about constant so no additional requirements for operating ground troops is assumed. But the anticipated need for aviation fuel has now increased by 50%.

I can think of two possible changes that require these higher numbers:

1. The closing of the U.S. airbase Manas in Kyrgyzstan will require longer air transport into Afghanistan from elsewhere (Bahrain?) and thus require more fuel.
2. The security situation on inner Afghan roads is now so bad that a decision has been made to now distribute most of the stuff needed by the troops in forward bases by air.

Transport flights from Bahrain to Bagram and back can likely carry enough fuel for both flight legs and would not need refueling Afghanistan. While they would have to fly 'heavy', this could well be cheaper than to fuel up in Afghanistan with fuel trucked in from as far away as Baku.

And here is another recent pre-solicitation for a serious upgrade of an airport at a new U.S. base at Tarin Kowt, a small city in south Afghanistan about 100 miles north of Kandahar. The Dutch garrison there happily used the old Russian dirt-strip runway there as visible in this video. As U.S. troops come in a $100,000,000 project gets started to accommodate their logistic needs:...

This seems to be a group dedicated to attacks on U.S. and NATO logistics. According to the first report Pakistani police also found and defused two big roadside bombs with cell-phone triggers for convoy attacks. The war is moving along the logistic lines into Pakistan. One wonders how long it will take until such logistic attacks happen in Karachi harbor where the U.S./Nato materials land.

Over the weekend several deadly  convoy attacks also happened in Afghanistan. Earlier reports pointed to the frequent use of road culverts for hiding improvised bombs. The military is asking for special technology to defeat such bombs hidden in culverts under Afghan roads.

[bth: We're getting our supplies choked off.  We will have to fly more into Afghanistan and to make matters worse we are losing control of the roads inside Afghanistan.]

TALF: ‘the great liquidation’ begins for hedge funds and shadow banks

TALF: ‘the great liquidation’ begins for hedge funds and shadow banks - Credit Writedowns
...But investors looking over the detritus left by the financial crisis seem suddenly to realise that, having survived so far, Fortress is ideally suited to reap a future bonanza. They looked past a hefty net loss for the fourth quarter and bid Fortress’ shares up as much as 40 per cent yesterday on hearing its optimism about participating in the first round of the term asset-backed securities loan facility. Fortress is one of a handful of groups that retain the size and credibility to play a role in what may prove to be a high reward and relatively low-risk exercise. Fortress executives dub the coming period “the great liquidation”.

Meanwhile, much of the bleeding has stopped in Fortress’ existing business. About 82 per cent of its capital is long-term in nature with an average remaining life of 9.2 years, leaving plenty of time for mark-to- market losses to be reversed. With important debt renegotiations and redemptions mostly behind it, nasty surprises are unlikely. Management’s optimism about the future of their hedge fund business may sound like bluster after huge outflows and no inflows recently, but it is not so implausible. If it can build new funds while using the taxpayer as a low cost prime broker, new investors should be willing to let bygones be bygones.

I won’t go into specifics here because we have chronicled that in the prior three posts. The crux of the matter is the ‘Great Liquidation.’ Financial service companies in the shadow banking system like Fortress are now able to rid themselves of a good portion of their Level-3 hard-to-price, so-called toxic assets. Now, mind you, these assets must be rated AAA and will be taken on as collateral for a haircut. But, I sense the Fed will be stuck with these assets for quite some time as the loans they are giving for them are non-recourse.

What was once ‘You Walk Away‘ for home owners on their non-recourse mortgages is now you walk away for hedge funds and broker-dealers.

Quoting a good friend, this is “a huge windfall for the hedge fund industry. This whole exercise is designed as much as possible to restore the status quo ante. That’s the real scandal.”

[bth: the American taxpayer is about to get raped again]

U.S. Weighs Taliban Strike Into Pakistan -

U.S. Weighs Taliban Strike Into Pakistan - "But some American officials say the missile strikes in the tribal areas have forced some leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to flee south toward Quetta, making them more vulnerable. In separate reports, groups led by both Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces in the region, and Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, a top White House official on Afghanistan, have recommended expanding American operations outside the tribal areas if Pakistan cannot root out the strengthening insurgency.

Many of Mr. Obama’s advisers are also urging him to sustain orders issued last summer by President George W. Bush to continue Predator drone attacks against a wider range of targets in the tribal areas. They also are recommending preserving the option to conduct cross-border ground actions, using C.I.A. and Special Operations commandos, as was done in September. Mr. Bush’s orders also named as targets a wide variety of insurgents seeking to topple Pakistan’s government. Mr. Obama has said little in public about how broadly he wants to pursue those groups"...

Dems Fuming Over White House Plan to Make Vets Pay for Service

Dems Fuming Over White House Plan To Make Vets Pay For Service Injuries
Democrats in Congress are organizing to squash a White House proposal that would require veterans to use private insurance to pay for treatment of their combat and service-related injuries.

In a letter being sent to the White House, a group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Glenn Nye (D-VA), warned that such a proposal "could harm our veterans and their families in unintended, yet very serious ways, jeopardizing their families' health care and even negatively affecting veterans' employment opportunities."

"While we strongly support your plans to increase funding for the VA by $25 billion over the next five years," the letter reads, "it is with equal conviction that we oppose the proposal to bill veterans' private health insurance plans for care and treatment of service-connected injuries or disabilities."

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) is leading a similar effort in coordination with Nye. Her letter is even more forcefully worded, calling the White House proposal "deeply troubling" and charging that it "ignores the mission of the VA."

"We cannot compromise on the promise we have made to those who serve our Nation," Kirkpatrick states.

Additionally, in a statement to the Huffington Post, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, one of the foremost champions of veterans' concerns in the Senate, called the issue of outsourcing health coverage from the VA a non-starter.

"Treatment for service-connected injuries is clearly within the responsibility of the U.S. government through the Department of Veterans Affairs -- period," Webb said.

The Obama administration has insisted that they are non-committal when it comes to a final decision on the actual policy, and White House officials will meet for the second time with veterans groups on Wednesday.....

[bth: Obama support within the military would fold if this goes forward.  ... So we bail out rat bastards at AIG and fuck over injured vets?  WTF?]

Wyden: My Bill Could Have Prevented AIG Mess

Wyden: My Bill Could Have Prevented AIG Mess:... "In an interview with the Huffington Post, the Oregon Democrat noted that during the crafting of the stimulus package, he and his Republican colleague from Maine introduced a provision that would have forced bailout recipients to cap their bonuses at $100,000. Any amount paid above that would have been taxed at 35 percent. The language made it through the Senate, but during conference committee with the House, it was inexplicably removed.

'The reality is, had that legislation been passed it would have been a very strong disincentive to anybody paying out bonuses in the future,' said Wyden. 'Earlier, the President had denounced those bonuses that came at the end of the year. And when Senator Snowe and I said it is not enough for those in elected office to say it was wrong, that they have got to have a plan to have them pay it back, we were able to get legislation through the United States Senate. Not a single United States Senator was willing in broad daylight to stand up and oppose our bipartisan amendment... but it died in conference.'"...

Iran Ramps up Drone Production | Danger Room from

Iran Ramps up Drone Production | Danger Room from "The U.S. military confirmed yesterday that it shot down an Iranian drone inside Iraq's airspace. But that probably won't be the last we see of Tehran's unmanned air force. Iran has started work on a drone-making factory, and is looking to ramp up its robot-plane production.

The downed drone, an Ababil-3, is part of the country's fleet of unmanned aircraft; Iran claims that it is building more capable systems with longer range and 'stealth' characteristics."...

[bth: we do not own this technology. It is already worldwide and growing. We need to adjust our defense plans accordingly. UAVs, UGVs, IEDs and contractors have changed the economics and tactics of warfare permanently]

Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Unknown Afghanistan

Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Unknown Afghanistan
..... Shairzay claimed that, over the previous seven years, his ministry had focused on the big electricity projects like the importation of power from Uzbekistan, and then he, in essence, passed the buck. When it came to provinces like Bamiyan, he said, his ministry wasn't really in charge at all. That fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, where he was going that very afternoon to discuss matters with his counterparts.

Yet, the deputy minister's words ran counter to what I had heard from the dozens of villagers around Bamiyan who knew exactly what they wanted: electricity, water, health care, a steady food supply, and jobs.

I even found very articulate and well educated Afghans in Bamiyan who were more than happy to describe simple but effective projects that might have gone a long way toward serving the population's desperate needs. For example, Dr Gulam Mohammad Nadir, the chief medical officer of Bamiyan's only hospital, told us that the needs of small rural communities were already well known. For example, he assured me, he could dramatically reduce health problems and save lives with a small grant that would allow him to demonstrate basic sanitation principles in local villages.

"I believe having clean water is the most essential aspect to human health and to prevent diseases. At the very least, we need to educate the people about how important it is to have proper sanitation, a clean water supply, and [knowledge about] how they can protect themselves from water-borne diseases."

Why, in fact, were such simple projects never implemented? The answer proved to be surprising, and it helps, in part, to explain the dismal fate of the Bush administration's version of Afghan "reconstruction." Virtually none of the $5.4 billion in taxpayer money that USAID has disbursed in this country since late 2001 has been invested in Bamiyan Province, where the total aid budget, 2002-2006, was just over $13 million.

While the Japanese government and UNESCO have dedicated some money to Bamiyan province, most of it has been spent on restoring the giant Buddhas, not on basic services for residents.

The bulk of the foreign aid has gone to big cities like Kabul and Mazar, but much has also gone into the coffers of foreign contractors and consultants like the Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, and DynCorp International in Afghanistan. The rest of the aid money has been poured into "rural development" projects in southern provinces like Kandahar where Canadian and U.S. troops are fighting the Taliban, and into provinces like Helmand where British soldiers, alongside U.S. troops, are struggling against the opium trade.

Most American taxpayer money is actually spent on the troops, not, of course, on poor Afghans. In fact, with Pentagon expenditures in Afghanistan running at about $36 billion a year, the annual aid allocation for the 387,000 people who live in Bamiyan Province is outstripped every single hour by the money spent on 30,000-plus American troops and their weaponry.

It turns out the villagers of Dragon Valley have two problems that can't be overcome. They have neither the Taliban to fight, nor opium crops to eradicate.

Pratap Chatterjee is the author of Halliburton's Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. He is the managing editor of CorpWatch. He traveled to Afghanistan with cameraman Ronald Nobu Sakamoto. To view three of Sakamoto's videos with Afghan scenes from 2002 and 2008 that vividly capture some of the experiences Chatterjee describes, click here.

[bth: this is worth reading in full.  We forgot to help the people themselves]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

GM CEO says bankruptcy would cause liquidation

GM CEO says bankruptcy would cause liquidation
DETROIT (AP) - General Motors Chief Executive Rick Wagoner says the automaker would end up being liquidated if it enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Wagoner says restructuring out of court would accomplish 99 percent of what could be achieved in bankruptcy. But he says it wouldn't have the risk of scaring away customers or the huge expense of Chapter 11.

Wagoner made the statements Tuesday at a breakfast in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

General Motors Corp. has received $13.4 billion in federal loans and is seeking another $16.6 billion. The company faces a March 31 deadline to finish its viability plan and show the government it's worthy of the money.

[bth: $1.5 billion is the market value of the company.  Given the tremendous amount of money the feds have poured in and the total worthlessness of the equity in this situation, I don't see how new non-government capital will come into the business without Chapter 11 protection.]

War is boring: Follow the Leder! Robot trucks and the Baby Ducky Effect

War Is Boring
...At their concession ceremony, Oshkosh vowed to keep working on TerraMax, and today we’re beginning to see the results. Unmanned Systems reports that Oshkosh has fitted TerraMax with the U.S. Army’s Convoy Active Safety Technology. CAST is actually derived from an Urban Challenge contender, built by Perceptek, that failed to make the cut for the final race. It adds cheap, reliable sensors, a simple data-link and servos to existing trucks, so that the trucks will just follow each other along the road, rather than needing constant human direction. At an October 2007 test in Virginia, two drivers in CAST-equipped trucks took turns following each other, letting CAST do most of the driving. I was there, watching in a curious mix of terror and glee as the driver of my truck took his hands off the wheel … and the wheel kept turning back and forth. (See video below.)

Fitted with CAST, TerraMax can function as the “smart” autonomous convoy leader for “dumber” trucks fitted with less sophisticated sensor and processing suites. Like a momma duck leading her ducklings, TerraMax will use its optical and laser scanners and GPS to keep a whole robotic convoy on the road. Oshkosh is anticipating a three-year test of the “CASTed” TerraMax....

[bth: worth a full read]

Drones Are Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda - NYT

Drones Are U.S. Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda -
A missile fired by an American drone killed at least four people late Sunday at the house of a militant commander in northwest Pakistan, the latest use of what intelligence officials have called their most effective weapon against Al Qaeda.

And Pentagon officials say the remotely piloted planes, which can beam back live video for up to 22 hours, have done more than any other weapons system to track down insurgents and save American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The planes have become one of the military’s favorite weapons despite many shortcomings resulting from the rush to get them into the field.

An explosion in demand for the drones is contributing to new thinking inside the Pentagon about how to develop and deploy new weapons systems.

Air Force officials acknowledge that more than a third of their unmanned Predator spy planes — which are 27 feet long, powered by a high-performance snowmobile engine, and cost $4.5 million apiece — have crashed, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pilots, who fly them from trailers halfway around the world using joysticks and computer screens, say some of the controls are clunky. For example, the missile-firing button sits dangerously close to the switch that shuts off the plane’s engines. Pilots are also in such short supply that the service recently put out a call for retirees to help.

But military leaders say they can easily live with all that.

Since the height of the cold war, the military has tended to chase the boldest and most technologically advanced solution to every threat, leading to long delays and cost overruns that result in rarely used fighter jets that cost $143 million apiece, and plans for a $3 billion destroyer that the Navy says it can no longer afford.

Now the Pentagon appears to be warming up to Voltaire’s saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”...

[bth: this is an excellent article worth a read in full]

Monday, March 16, 2009

Grassley on AIG execs: Quit or suicide - Martin Kady II -

Grassley on AIG execs: Quit or suicide - Martin Kady II - "Sen. Charles Grassley is so angry over AIG bonuses that he says the executives should resign or kill themselves.

In a comment aired this afternoon on WMT, an Iowa radio station, Grassley (R-Iowa) said: “The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things — resign, or go commit suicide.”"...

US Debt Expanding, Homeowner Equity Crashing - Huffington Post

Pandit Told Congress Compensation Was $1 Million, But Bank Filing Shows $10.8 Million (WATCH)

Pandit Told Congress Compensation Was $1 Million, But Bank Filing Shows $10.8 Million (WATCH)

East Timor's First Female Dictator Hailed As Step Forward For Women | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

East Timor's First Female Dictator Hailed As Step Forward For Women | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
East Timor's First Female Dictator Hailed As Step Forward For Women

Experts Agree Giant, Razor-Clawed Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Experts Agree Giant, Razor-Clawed Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
Experts Agree Giant, Razor-Clawed Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat

Manufacturer Recalls Hollow Point Bullets That Fail To Explode Inside Targets | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Manufacturer Recalls Hollow Point Bullets That Fail To Explode Inside Targets | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
Manufacturer Recalls Hollow Point Bullets That Fail To Explode Inside Targets

Reich - The real scandal of AIG

Robert Reich: The Real Scandal of AIG
...Americans still have so little say over what is happening with our money.

The administration is said to have been outraged when it heard of the bonus plan last week. Apparently Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner told AIG's chairman, Edward Liddy (who was installed at the insistence of the Treasury, in the first place) that the bonuses should not be paid. But most will be paid anyway, because, according to AIG, the firm is legally obligated to do so. The bonuses are part of employee contracts negotiated before the bailouts. And, in any event, Liddy explained, AIG needed to be able to retain talent.

AIG's arguments are absurd on their face. Had AIG gone into chapter 11 bankruptcy or been liquidated, as it would have without government aid, no bonuses would ever be paid; indeed, AIG's executives would have long ago been on the street. And any mention of the word "talent" in the same sentence as "AIG" or "credit default swaps" would be laughable if it laughing weren't already so expensive.

Apart from AIG's sophistry is a much larger point. This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that's "too big to fail" and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. So to whom should they be accountable? When taxpayers have put up, and essentially own, a large portion of their assets, AIG and other behemoths should be accountable to taxpayers. When our very own Secretary of the Treasury cannot make stick his decision that AIG's bonuses should not be paid, only one conclusion can be drawn: AIG is accountable to no one. Our democracy is seriously broken.

[bth: well put]

News Analysis - Bracing for a Bailout Backlash -

News Analysis - Bracing for a Bailout Backlash - "WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda."...

[bth: commentators out of Washington seem to blame the public for being angry that Washington rewards the least deserving - the crooks, the incompetent - while throwing normal people out of their homes. Backlash is being felt because Congress went home to their districts and found out the problems in middle America were far far worse then they thought. ... We might as well close down AIG, fire the executives that got these bonuses and start prosecutions.]

Frank assails bonuses paid to executives at AIG - Yahoo! Finance

Frank assails bonuses paid to executives at AIG - Yahoo! Finance:... "Echoing outrage expressed on both sides of the political aisle in the wake of revelations that American International Group will pay roughly $165 million in bonuses, Frank said he believes it's time to shake up the company.

'These people may have a right to their bonuses. They don't have a right to their jobs forever,' said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee."...

New Army Weapon Aims to Fry Gadgets, People

New Army Weapon Aims to Fry Gadgets, People | Danger Room from
Electronics-frying "e-bombs" have been discussed for decades — but rarely, if ever, deployed. Knocking out computers and communications gear with electromagnetic radiation is nice, but commanders prefer the proven method: blowing stuff up.

Now the U.S. Army is developing technology to do both at the same time. Hybrid munitions would give warheads the added punch of an e-bomb that can "destroy and disable electronic systems and their operators" all in one blast. The key is a magnet that blows up and spontaneously demagnetizes, releasing energy as a pulse of power. Oh, and antennas made of fire. My story in the current Defense Technology International explains....

[bth: we are likely to be the most vulnerable to this type of weapon]

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bomb kills 4 US soldiers in Afghanistan's east

Bomb kills 4 US soldiers in Afghanistan's east: "KABUL — Hundreds of U.S. soldiers recently deployed near the Afghan-Pakistan border have seen clashes and attacks double in early 2009 compared with 2008, U.S. officials said. Underscoring the danger, a roadside bomb Sunday in the same region killed four U.S. troops.

The spike in violence along the border is a first indication that roadside bombs and other ambushes are likely to surge as thousands of new U.S. forces arrive in Afghanistan this year"...

Can the Pentagon be Fixed?

Can the Pentagon be Fixed? |
..The U.S. defense budget is higher than at any point since the end of World War II, but the size of the combat formations of the Army, Navy and Air Force are the smallest since 1946. …

DoD “Worst Run Department”: Cordesman - DOD Buzz

DoD “Worst Run Department”: Cordesman » Blog Archive » DoD Buzz
CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman gave a speech yesterday at the National Defense University where he blasted the defense culture that has produced what he called “the worst run department in our history.” He emailed the speech around and I’d thought I’d reproduce a few of the choicer bits. He said the current “crisis” facing all the services’ procurement and force structure plans, where “we are killing force structure to try to buy new weapons,” is a failure of leadership, not of process.

“We talk of “jointness,” but the reality is that each service is involved in an existential battle for resources against the others. We have gone into two wars with no clear plan for conflict termination or for stability operations. We have tried to manage wars through supplementals in the absence of long-term plans, decoupled military operations from nation building, and been so slow to react to the growth of the threat in Afghanistan that we are now losing a war we once thought we had decisively won.”

“Some of this can be blamed on what may have been the worst national security team of the postwar era. As someone who thought Robert McNamara represented the nadir in defense leadership, I have to give Donald Rumsfeld credit for being the epitome of a micromanaging bully who scattered snowflakes like dandruff, and with about as much effect. I also have a horrifying sense of déjà vu when I compare McGeorge Bundy and the Rostows to Cheney and our recent national security advisers. There is far too little difference between the “neoconservatives” of Iraq and Afghanistan and the “neoliberals” of Vietnam.”

“Year after year, our top civilian and military decision makers came and went letting the under-budgeting of procurement, force plans, and manpower grow. We then found ourselves fighting “long” wars that we took years to fully deploy and budget for, each year asking for supplementals that tacitly assumed we would win in the next year. We were slow to react in Iraq, and took until FY2007 to seriously budget for Afghanistan. In fact, we used the totally predictable inability to precisely predict the cost of war to create a nightmare of unrealistic annual baseline budgets, half thought-out supplementals, and pointless Future Year Defense Plans (FYDPs).”

Cordesman said the last thing DOD needs is another commission or study to examine the defense “process.” Rather, what is needed are leaders willing to make tough choices, that means cutting cherished weapons programs, and who are held accountable for their decisions. “There is only one test: what did you do that served the broader national interest of the U.S. successfully during your tour of duty. Not your party, not your ideology, not your service, and not your program.”

The crisis befalling DOD is also the product of a complete decoupling of any meaningful strategy and detailed force and procurement plans and honest budgeting. Cordesman had some choice comments on the upcoming QDR, being run on the OSD side by under secretary of defense Michele Flournoy’s policy shop....

“Is $533.7 billion in FY2010 and 4.2% of the GNP enough? Enough for what? Our most recent QDR is a morass of half thought-out ideas—many calling for further study or otherwise deferring tangible action. We don’t have a force plan. We don’t have a clearly defined procurement plan. We don’t tie it to end strength goals that are clearly defined and costed. We haven’t provided meaningful budget figures because the FYDP is not tied to the QDR. We haven’t set clear goals to be achieved. We have no metrics.”

“Would we be where we are today if we forced the department to tie its strategy to plans and budget, if we demanded metrics, if we required a public annual accounting, and if we held our top leadership fully accountable? Can any change in process or business practices make up for this failure? The answer is no.”

World Politics Review - In Afghanistan, Good Intnetions Not Enough

World Politics Review | In Afghanistan, Good Intentions Not Enough
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Over scalding cups of tea in mid-February, an elder in Nijrab, Afghanistan said to me, "For two years you have come here and asked me the same questions. I like you, I like the French, but you people never learn."

He was referring to the generic questions Westerners ask Afghans: What is your life like? Where is the Taliban? What are your village's needs? This particular elder has regular contact with American troops, and likes Americans enough to have tea with us.

Nevertheless, he was deeply frustrated by the way, for all our questions, we never seem to learn from our experiences.Very few people in Kapisa province assume that coalition forces are there to do them harm. They acknowledge that ISAF behaves fundamentally differently than the Soviets did. Yet as the seventh year of the war begins, there is enormous frustration with the coalition for not learning from its mistakes, and also with the Afghan government for being unresponsive.

One elder from northern Tagab said, "We can sit down and have tea with you, but we can't with our own government." He said he wished the coalition would focus more on the people and less on the government. "Governments come and go," he said, "but the people will always be here."

Indeed, countless interviews indicate that people in Afghanistan have very little confidence in their local government or the police, instead trusting their shuras (community and district councils) and the Army to represent their interests.

An incident I witnessed at the end of February is illustrative. I was having tea with the Afghan National Army unit guarding the gate of U.S. Forward Operating Base Morales-Frazier in Central Kapisa when we heard a commotion. Outside the HESCO barriers, two Toyota Corollas -- the most common car in Afghanistan -- had collided. The drivers were busy yelling at and slapping each other.

Two ANA soldiers ran toward the wreck and tried to pull them apart. After the men eventually calmed down, and as one was handing the other money for repairs, a policeman showed up. An ANA soldier approached him, waving his hands, but the policeman walked past him and proceeded to take about half the money from the drivers before heading back to his roadside checkpoint.

The ANA soldiers walked back into the hut where they had made me tea, shaking their heads. When I asked them about what had happened, they appeared clearly frustrated but were unwilling to discuss it.

Corruption and ineffective governance of all sorts is an enormous problem in Afghanistan. But although the coalition has taken to blaming most of its problems on that corruption (and on Pakistan), the lack of headway in fighting the insurgency is due more to its own inability to learn and adapt quickly enough.

Interviewing village and community elders in Central Afghanistan can reveal a tremendous amount about what Afghans believe are the country's most urgent problems. Security is certainly among them. One of the few lessons from Iraq that is applicable to Afghanistan is the pressing need for more troop presence, off of forward operating bases and on the ground, for long periods of time. That remains a distant and unobtainable goal, though, making it difficult to protect people who are threatened with beheading for, among other things, attending high school or a local shura.
But while security cannot be ignored, the West tends to exaggerate its importance. Indeed, when people complain about building new schools -- "There are no jobs," one said, "so what good is an education?" -- and instead beg the U.S. for wells, roads, irrigation, and flood control, it's easy to think that maybe we're missing the point entirely.

Either way, there is a palpable sense that the good will and trust coalition forces enjoyed in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 is melting away. By this point, some elders are witnessing their ninth rotation of well-meaning Americans asking them the same 25 questions about their lives.

"I don't hate you," one agitated man said to me when I asked him what he thought I needed to know about his community. "But I am sick to death of America talking and talking and talking but never accomplishing anything."

Joshua Foust is a defense consultant with TSI Executive Consulting, Inc. The views expressed here are his alone. He blogs about Central Asia at

[bth: one wonders what would happen if we funded more local jobs to build the items listed above.  We have tremendous wealth relative to the problems at hand in Afghanistan.  Let's use it locally in Afghanistan instead of funding corrupt Pakistani government officials or lining the pockets of corrupt Afghan officials.  The needs are local.  The need for jobs, infrastructure, some semblance of good government and good intentions on our part.  Can this be accomplished without a surge in troops?  I wonder?   Perhaps it can.  Perhaps it can.]

Marines Eye $75 Million 'Web 2.0 In A Box'

Marines Eye $75 Million 'Web 2.0 In A Box' -- InformationWeek
The U.S. Marine Corps is willing to pay up to $75 million to any tech vendor that can develop a computer-in-a-briefcase system that would let Special Forces troops securely e-mail, videoconference, and chat with commanders from behind enemy lines or from other hot spots.

The proposed Expeditionary Command and Control Suite (ECCS) is "a transit case/suitcase-based communications solution" that would provide field troops with access to the armed forces' Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, as well as e-mail, voice, and videoconferencing tools, according to an official request for proposal published this month by the Marine Corps....

According to the RFP, leathernecks could use the system to maintain contact with commanders, possibly while under fire, until able to establish less-temporary command-and-control systems. "This system and the services it provides are required by initial response teams to facilitate communications with higher headquarters while on-the-pause and over-the-horizon," the RFP states.

Swat agreement unnerving the US: Top intelligence official

DNA: World: Swat agreement unnerving the US: Top intelligence official
Washington: Coming out openly against the recent agreement between the militants and NWFP Government in the picturesque Swat Valley of Pakistan, a top intelligence official on Wednesday said this has been unnerving the US.

"It is also unnerving to us from the standpoint of what that means to other militants in the region," Lt. general Michael Maples, Director, Defence Intelligence Agency of the US Army said while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee....

Afghan Envoy Assails Western Allies as Halfhearted, Defeatist

Afghan Envoy Assails Western Allies as Halfhearted, Defeatist
Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States attacked Western governments fighting in and providing billions in aid to his country, saying that those who claim the international community is not winning the war against extremists there "should know that they never fully tried."

"We never asked to be the 51st state," Ambassador Said T. Jawad said, a reference to a suggestion last month by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) that the United States should concentrate on "realistic goals" and its "original mission" of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

"To suggest that Afghans do not deserve peace, pluralism and human rights is wrong and racist," Jawad said.

He said negotiations with the Taliban should be conducted by the Afghan government and should be withheld until it was in a "position of strength." President Obama, in a New York Times interview last week, echoed numerous administration and U.S. military officials in suggesting that the United States seek negotiations with "reconcilable" Taliban elements.

Obama also said the United States and NATO were not winning the war in Afghanistan and spoke favorably of U.S. military plans to bolster Afghan tribal forces to participate in the war against extremists -- a policy seen as successful in Iraq and being tried in pilot programs in Afghanistan. Jawad said yesterday that such plans "will not work" and would undermine the country's stability.

Jawad's remarks, in an address last night at Harvard University, were a forceful public expression of issues privately raised here last month with the Obama administration by a top-level national security delegation from President Hamid Karzai's government.

Jawad accused those aiding Afghanistan of "total negligence" in building the Afghan police force and judicial system, "under-investment" in the national army, and providing "meager resources" devoted to helping the Afghan government deliver services and protect its citizens.

U.S. military expenditures in Afghanistan have totaled more than $173 billion since 2001, with an additional $35 billion spent in reconstruction aid. U.S. military deaths total more than 660, with 431 NATO troops killed.

Many of Jawad's complaints echo assessments made by the Obama administration, which lays much of the blame for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan on what it sees as its predecessor's obsession with Iraq at Afghanistan's expense. But the ambassador's tone and rejection of any Afghan responsibility for the situation reflected an escalating tension between the Obama and Karzai governments as Obama's national security team forges a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Karzai "doesn't seem to be ready to take any responsibility for the problems," an administration official said....

[bth: this article is worth reading in full.  I've highlighted areas where we can make an unconditionally constructive effort.... Most of them focus on good governance and economic development. ...  Karzai's government might not be worth defending at this point. I suggest we focus on helping the people of Afghanistan and let the government come or go as it can. ... There is a lot of criticism about aerial bombings but concurrently there is a penalty to be paid for harboring those who attack us.  Whether we should be there now or not maybe another question, but the fact is we are there at the moment at least.  I don't see any indication we are going to have a favorable outcome in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  We are going to have a mini-state of Pashtun religious radicals willing to harbor those who attack us and those who hate us. That is one consequence of forcusing on Iraq for the last 5  years instead of fighting to win in Afghanistan.]

Taliban demand $375,000 to free captive Canadian Taliban demand $375,000 to free captive Canadian
BANNU, PAKISTAN and VANCOUVER — Taliban insurgents active in Pakistan's lawless tribal region have offered to free a Canadian woman held since November in return for a $375,000 (U.S.) ransom.

The demand came in an interview near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with Qari, a man who preferred to identify himself only by his first name.

Qari says he's a close aide of Gul Bahadur, the Taliban head in the volatile North Waziristan region who is alleged to be responsible for the kidnapping of Beverly Giesbrecht, a West Vancouver woman who was in the area working as a freelance journalist....

Ms. Giesbrecht, 52, also goes by the name, Khadija Abdul Qahaar, after converting to Islam in 2002. She is the publisher of a pro-Islamic website, Jihad Unspun....

There have been recent reports that a spate of kidnappings of Pakistani and foreign officials in the area have been triggered by the Taliban's need for money.

Muhammad Haroon, a local tribesman, said the Taliban are facing serious financial constraints at a time when their rivals are also under the grip of global financial crunch.

Some circles within the hard-line militia say Taliban leader Mullah Omar has issued directives to Pakistan-based Taliban heads to stop internal conflicts and concentrate on ejecting foreign forces from Afghanistan.

[bth: If I'm not mistaken there is a missing NYT's reporter named Rhodes as well.  Curious that the Taliban is in a cash crunch.]

Pakistan proposes integration of Taliban into security forces

Pakistan proposes integration of Taliban into security forces - The Long War Journal
A senior official in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province wants the Taliban to integrate into the security forces in the region where the governemnt ceded to the Taliban's demands to implement sharia, or Islamic Law, and end military operations. The official also described the Swat Taliban leader as "good human being."

Syed Muhammad Javed, the Malakand Division Commissioner, has proposed the Taliban provide recruits for the police and the paramilitary Levies force. The Malakand Division is made up of the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, and Chitral.

"I have proposed the Taliban be adjusted in police or Levies force and have suggested this at several forums," Javed told Daily Times. He claimed the police force's "confidence is shaken" due to a Taliban campaign of assassination and intimidation.

The police have been hit so hard that the force has been rendered ineffective. The governemnt claimed 70 policemen, an estimated five percent of the force, have been killed since the fighting in Swat broke out in July 2007. More than 800 policemen, more than half of the force, have deserted their posts or taken extended leaves to avoid the Taliban attacks. Another 142 troops from the paramilitary Frontier Corps have been reported killed since August 2008....

Javed's proposal to integrate the Taliban into the security forces comes as the US Congress is debating a $20 billion aid package to Pakistan. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar have proposed giving Pakistan a one-time $5 billion grant plus a 10 year aid package worth $15 billion. Some of this money is slated to improve the security forces in Paksitan's Northwest Frontier Province and the Taliban-controlled tribal agencies.

But Pakistan's history of appropriately spending US aid money is appalling. More than $3.8 billion of an estimated $5 billion of military aid given to Pakistan up until December 2007 is unaccounted for, and it has been reported that millions of dollars in US aid has gone to pay reparations to the Taliban in Swat.

[bth: Roggio continues to provide excellent reporting.  He is worth a full and daily read as far as I'm concerned.  Too bad this kind of reporting isn't done by actual newspapers.]

Taliban attack NATO trucking terminal in Peshawar

Taliban attack NATO trucking terminal in Peshawar - The Long War Journal
A Taliban rocket attack on a trucking terminal in Peshawar has destroyed more than 20 NATO trucks and set part of the terminal ablaze.

The fire, described as an "inferno" by Geo News, "is getting more and more difficult to control" due to the "intensity" of the flames. It is unknown if further vehicles or shipping containers are in danger of being destroy.

The early Sunday morning attack in Peshawar is the first major strike against NATO's supply lines through northwestern Pakistan since the Feb. 3 attack in the Jamrud region in the Khyber tribal agency. The Taliban bombed a vital bridge spanning a dry river bed. The bridge was nearly destroyed and traffic was halted for more than a week until the route could be reopened.

The attack in Jamrud forced the government to shut down the route for the sixth time since September 2008. Some Pakistani truckers have refused to travel through Peshawar and Khyber as the security situation has deteriorated.

There have been multiple attacks on NATO truck terminals along Peshawar's Ring Road. More than 450 NATO vehicles and containers have been destroyed in a series of attacks on shipping terminals in Peshawar as well as attacks on convoys moving through the region. During several bold attacks over the course of two days in early December 2008, an estimated force of 300 to 400 Taliban fighters destroyed more than 200 vehicles and shipping containers.....

[bth: 450 vehicles and containers in the last six months or so.  That must dwarf combat losses.  It is hard to imagine any meaningful rise in troop strength without a supply line to support them.]


YouTube - Brendan Calling - Accountability Now!

YouTube - Brendan Calling - Accountability Now!

Good News Flower Hour

Crooks and Liars

The Day US Air Power Was Saved From Itself - David Axe

War Is Boring
The U.S. Navy has revealed that it has leased a Super Tucano propeller-driven light attack plane, pictured, to support U.S. Special Operations Forces, with another three on the way. “This is a close air support, manned aircraft with a pilot and sensor operator. The idea here is that SOF needs an organic capability that can stick with them while they’re doing their mission,” Captain Mark Mullins said, according to Defense News.

Mullins called the Brazilian-built Super Tucano a “fascinating piece of kit.” The plane has a six-hour endurance and can operate from rough fields and roads. “You can imagine the SOF guys and Marines really love this. The challenge here, and why it’s so contentious, is it falls into the seam where it’s really not clear whose bailiwick it is. It’s not a marinized aircraft. It doesn’t fly off the carrier.”

It doesn’t matter whose bailiwick it is. This capability is too important to let fall prey to inter-service rivalry. If the Air Force refuses to get on board with light attack, then the Navy should carry on alone....


[bth: worth a read in full]